The Fortress of Marriage
Novel in Progress
As Mother fluttered about downstairs, repeatedly ringing the bell for the maids and complaining about the fires smoking, I remained in my bed chamber, imagining Miss Elliot’s occupations. Was she drinking tea with Mrs Elliot by the fireside? Steeping in a lavender-scented bath? Laughing with her older brother about his ridiculous obsession with ice skating? I feasted upon her as if she were an intoxicating dessert: chocolate mousse with sugared walnuts; crème de pot dappled in hazelnut sauce; vanilla pudding laced with brandy and cinnamon… the falling snow, a white canvas upon which my mind could draw.
Oh love, oh happy, happy love!
By the end of the first day, however, a trickle of darkness into mind and heart: Miss Elliot was a temptation. Nothing more. I was a fool, delirious, delusional, swept away by lust, an unmoored ship likely to crash upon the rocks, like so many gentlemen before me.
The windows in my bedchamber rattled in gusts of wind as I tossed in bed. Itchy, irritated. Why had I chosen Miss Mary Elliot as a prospective wife? Not for her fortune; I possessed one. Nor was it her appearance; pretty girls in society were plentiful. She was a young lady well-mannered and sweet; one could even say docile in her eagerness to please. Yet that was not what I needed. As tyrannical as my mother was, I possessed neither the nature nor desire to claim a wife who obeyed my every wish.
In fact, my closest female companions--Clarisse, Cousin Julia, Arabella--were all ladies who could be described as intelligent, opinionated, even headstrong. I could picture each clearly within my mind. They were authentically themselves. Clear. Memorable. Miss Mary Elliot, on the other hand, floated through my imagination, a cloud, easily adaptable to whatever image I imposed. Preening princess. Society snob. Lost little girl.
A haunting whistle sounded above the house: the wind, taunting me. I threw off my comforter with such force it plunked to the floor and sat at the edge of my bed, open to the freezing air. The wind howled, the walls creaked, and yet, my bed chamber contained the deceitful appearance of warmth: walls glowing orange-gold from the fire’s dying embers, a sigh of light bestowing such radiance, such peace! Its allure tricked the mind. For my breath was ice upon my lips, and my fingertips grew senseless with cold. Although close to shivering, I refused to draw within my bed. Mother and Father hid within the comforts of luxury, our home, our circle of friends, a gilded cage with a startling array of pleasure and distraction and indulgence. Yet, now, the chill in my elegantly appointed room could not be denied.
How I wished for the wind to crash through the window! To destroy such complacency, such lies.
Of course I had chosen Miss Mary Elliot. For she would accept my proposal. She entailed no risk, produced no fear. She was safe. As a lady, as a wife.
Bare feet stinging against the icy floorboards, I walked to the window. Within its reflection, my own figure, nude in the dim heat of fire. This was the man my future wife would see, would know... the scent of my skin, every curve of flesh, the strands of hair curling along my chest, navel, groin. She would know the spasm in my left thigh that appeared after tennis, the ring that sounded in my ears when cold--as they did now: a high-pitched wail that prophesied danger. (Would I tell her this?)
Behind the glass's reflection, waves of slanting light: the snow, falling, falling. Cold air, pressing in, creating pools of shadow across my figure. If I possessed the courage, I would smash the glass and welcome the startling wind. I would, by my own hand, transform my subdued and comfortable bedchamber into--what? I hardly knew. Something else. Something fresh, alive... so fresh, so alive, I would gasp like a newborn.
Yet, even as I raised my arm, I knew I would not crash my fist through the glass. For I was a coward.
Scampering back to my bed of feather and satin, I lay beneath the fur-lined comforter, shivering, insensible, yet reassured. The containment of my bed, the clean lines of my bedchamber--not unlike a coffin, yet soothing nonetheless. Lines. Lines. Their regularity was so very reliable, so very clear. The lines of a tailored suit, for instance. Or a finely-cut diamond. The lines of a tennis court, the text within a book... the garden paths of Sinclair Park... frames of family portraits...